West Lawn, Mostly by Sylvie Epstein
On April 12th, 2022, I tweeted: “wearing overalls, eating such a good apple, walking home at sunset to cook dinner after laying in the sun all day, bliss.”
Though I often ostentatiously, obnoxiously, and only semi-accurately brag about my ability to remember detailed interactions from moments passed, I can’t seem to conjure up the memory of a single Columbia night as I sit down this evening to reflect. What I remember—and will continue to remember—is the way Columbia stirs to life in the early days of spring. I will remember the way we seem to make an unspoken, yet collective decision to disregard our work and abandon our books in Butler. Over the last eight semesters, the main lawns (most often West, but sometimes East, if I feel like mixing it up) have been home to endless hours of conversation and just as many of silent company. I have sat with new friends from old clubs and old friends from old dorms. I have put faces to names and celebrated my dearest peers for their wonderful accomplishments. And, when I get up from the grass, it is not uncommon that I will stop at a store on my way home and buy myself an apple. Or a plum. But what occurs without fail, is that I leave satisfied. Without fail, it feels like bliss.
Missed Connections by Dominy Gallo
It was a difficult choice for a senior to make: two hours of a capella or an audited lecture on Sula in Schermerhorn. Off I went, predictably, novel in hand, while my friends wrestled their way into the College Walk crowd. I was sure Professor Marcus would finish on the dot and I’d make the 7:30 p.m. countdown if I ran. At 7:25, I picked up my phone to pull up my friends’ shared locations and saw a stream of messages: The trees had already been lit! Some were in John Jay getting milk for hot cocoa, others were walking up Broadway with booze, and I was in Scherm 614—not one of us was there. Still, after regrouping at the Sundial, we took picture after picture in every arrangement, chilled and smiling. My best friend and I pressed cold cheek to cold cheek. The photos look flustered, like the trees, which hadn’t shed in time, so the fairy lights strangled plumes of golden leaves, like so many fingerless gloves. Happy and haphazard, we gathered afterward in one of our suites in EC to write letters to our future selves. More people came, people we variously knew, and the hostess introduced us each to the filling-up room. Hushes fell in waves over the group as we wrote in reveries, messages to May. One by one, the hostess collected the sealed envelopes to tuck them away until graduation, when she’d pass them all back to us to read. Mine would languish on my desk unfinished until the spring semester because there, as I wrote, appeared my crush, the one I’d met at a Pride and Prejudice party in late summer. She sat down next to me to have a chat over red wine. There the notepad lay, ignored and in my hands, with that unfinished question scrawled: “Did you fall in love this term?” And the hasty caveat: “No pressure if not.”
In Between by Kelsey Kitzke
If there is one thing about me, it is that I believe in a completed narrative arc with my whole soul. In my ideal world, I walk through the Barnard gates as a nervous eighteen-year-old and exit four years later a confident twenty-two-year-old—a fully developed being ready to take on the world. How desperate I’ve been to think of something I could do, say, or remember to make things feel full circle. Four years ago, I thought that college would be a journey of perfected self-discovery. It certainly has been one of discovery in many ways—I’m unsure what kind of person I would be if I didn’t go to Barnard. But what I will most remember about this place and my time here is the feeling of being in between. Most often, literally being in between. Walking down Broadway on the first warm day of the year; running into friends in front of Diana and being late to class; meandering down Riverside in the cold to find an open swing because I am happy or sad or confused; rushing the corner of 110th and Broadway past the fruit stands of Westside to my friends’ apartment because I have good news or bad news or weird news. There are the stretches of Amsterdam where I’ve learned tenderness by holding my friends’ hands, joy when I’ve laughed so hard that I’ve almost peed myself, and stillness amid the city chaos. I’m less concerned now about perfectly deciphering the boundaries of myself as a means to understand what the future will be, and much more invested in the between.
Bomb Threat by Cole Cahill
I was filing documents into the professor’s Byzantine system of folders and cabinets in the windowless basement of Pulitzer Hall when my phone notified me that someone had called in a bomb threat to the building next door. The basement was probably a decent place to be if a bomb were to detonate, but unlike the professor and my fellow research assistants, I wasn’t taking any chances.
The house I lived in was just across 114th Street and probably would have been within the blast zone along with Pulitzer, but my housemates were congregating in the dining room to talk through our next move. Laughing, only a little nervously, Hanna said that we should maybe get off campus. I agreed. It just so happened that Chris, our non-CUID-holding housemate, needed to return a rental car to Chinatown. Five of us piled into the gray Corolla and missed our afternoon classes even though the threat was, in all likelihood, empty. Better safe than sorry.
Blasting music in a carful of friends is one of life’s pleasures we sacrifice to live in New York City, but that day, we shouted along to Teenage Dirtbag as we cruised down the FDR. We ate dumplings on Mulberry Street and tried on denim rhinestone NEW YORK snapbacks in souvenir shops. Between rows of Catholic ephemera in the E. Rossi store, an old man played “Ventura Highway” by America on an acoustic guitar. We heard that there was no bomb on campus after all, but we already knew that.
Ever since an email in March 2020 ejected me from my dorm room on a few days’ notice, the looming threat of crisis and upheaval at Columbia has never truly retreated; the other shoe seems eternally on the verge of dropping. My impulse to get the most from any given day, to lean into the chances for spontaneity, has been sharpened by the anxiety that they might be fleeting. I can’t think of a better way to live.
Sunset Crumbs by Eliza Rudalevige
I had just turned in my thesis and needed to touch grass after a solid week in Butler’s unmerciful wooden chairs. So I followed an impulse natural to every Columbia student once the weather hits sixty: I headed to the lawns. One by one, my friends gathered on my blanket, lured by the sweetness of the magnolias and the promise of Prosecco. As frisbees whizzed overhead, sometimes alarmingly close, we talked about everything but the possibility of departure. We debated which dining hall has the best salad bar (Ferris is the most consistent, but all bets are off when John Jay has giardiniera or kalamata olives). We waxed poetic on our seminar crushes, the quirks of our favorite professors, and the plight of a seventh-floor Hamilton class. As the stars began to peek through the dusky, darkening sky, we played Uno and chatted about the astrological traits of campus landmarks—Alma Mater is definitely a Virgo.
A little drunk and very content, I missed a talk by Eileen Myles at the Lenfest Center. I watched the international students smoke outside Butler instead, tiny ashy embers falling like sunset crumbs.
In “An American Poem,” Myles writes, “Do you know what the message of Western Civilization is? I am alone.” And they are right. My time here has been marked by loneliness as much as anything else, by wintry walks to and from class, by wooden cubicles, by meals for one, by frustration with the institution that planted these lawns. But in this moment, under the wayward frisbees, I am not alone—and for that, I am grateful.
All of It by Benjamine Mo
Often, at night, I have lingered mid-step on Low and gazed upon Butler glowing in its indeterminate distance, tried to capture its immensity within the bounds of my periphery—and failed. I am frustrated by the transience of its image in my head, the brevity of its imprint. Holding this quintessential sight of Columbia in this way convinces me that I’ve done all of it right, that I know this place, that I can make sense of my experience here completely just as it has contained four years of my life. When my foot places itself down to the step before me and I continue my walk, it all seems to slip away.
I made a promise to myself as a freshman to practice this act of looking across campus with intention and regularity, so that at this very moment—as a graduating senior—I might nostalgically run through the catalog of mid-step snapshots housed in my memory. But time is not so generous. They all blend into one, which feels empty. When I began this habit as a freshman, I was self-conscious of being seen standing still and staring for too long. Now, with the days counting away, I dwell in that position, motionless, for what feels like an interminable amount of time, which still feels not enough.
My point is: I am joyful, sad, and maybe a bit angsty, definitely uneasy. Last year, after a session of one of my beloved CSER courses, I confessed to my professor, a practicing psychologist outside of the classroom, that I was concerned about starting therapy—that I intellectualize things too frequently, losing sight of hard truths. She pressed her finger to my forehead: It’s not about what’s in here. She pressed her finger to my chest: It’s about what’s in here. It might seem banal, I get it. But now and then, when I’m all in my head, I feel the pressure of that touch shift toward my heart, and things start to make sense.
So when I think of Columbia, dear Columbia, and cannot pin down what it is I want to say about it, I perch myself on Low and contemplate the campus before me, awashed in my triumphs, regrets, everything in between. Inevitably, a smile overcomes me.
The Columbia State by Will Lyman
On Friday night, I vaulted over the fence on South Lawn and body-slammed the grass patch that twelve or so improv kids surrounded. They were probably doing charades or something; I didn’t linger.
It was the first hot day of the year and the lawns were swarming with sun-stunned Columbians, all giddy with mutual recognition: we’d survived the winter. Men I’d never seen before surrounded beer pong tables. My friend looked like a 90s starlet in the denim jacket I lent her. All around me, there was the hum of a night underway. I still had grass in my back pockets an hour later when I looked at the clouds that covered the stars and lamented that it hadn’t always been this fun, this easy.
Fear knows how to gnaw at me. On the lawns, I worried that I looked too stiff or too drunk. My friend—sullen, smoking next to Butler—said, “It’s all Virginia.” We often talk of Woolf, how she captured consciousness, the velocity and density of human emotion. I thought of Ellie Henderson’s coy, self-absorption at the dinner party in Mrs. Dalloway, how she refused to lay herself aside and join the party. I was no different.
I was hit with a great undiscovered affection for the years, the hours, left of our youth. I thought of Richard seeing Clarissa in the doorway as if for the first time. Everyone looked more beautiful than ever under the beady, bleeding light of the lawn lamp posts. They colored the grass like a football field, like a stage production. There it was.
Everybody’s Coming to My House by Tarini Krishna
I love the idea of an apartment party. While I adore crawling through the sidewalks of the Lower East Side, I didn’t have the energy to map out a bar-hopping extravaganza since my birthday was falling on the last day of spring semester finals. I had low expectations for the night, having assumed that few of my friends would show up given that they’d be eager to return home. Instead, a friend who had a spare key to my apartment traipsed through the door. In a matter of minutes, my floors were covered with balloons and the walls in streamers that lingered for a year. I received a text from my friend who had flown home earlier that week informing me that her flight had just landed, just in time to make the party. The music was a perfect mix of hyperpop and Kate Bush, and someone had brought a bottle of Ancho Chile Liqueur that was adding a bite to my drink. I didn’t know I could hold a smile for so long.
As the clock neared midnight, my brother grabbed a bottle of champagne and asked a friend to take a photo of us together.
Right as the camera flash went off, I was showered with champagne. Happy 21st.
Midnight Memories by Briani Netzahuatl
Five shots of tequila, a cup of Minute Maid Berry Punch, and a Mango and Lime-a-Rita for the road. Despite it being 40 degrees outside, I skipped down College Walk in my thin dress, the false warmth coursing through my veins. It was Dirty Thursday at House of Yes—Rihanna night. She had performed at the Super Bowl that Sunday. My friends and I, all twelve of us, crowded onto the 1, counting heads before collapsing onto the shiny plastic seats. A tallboy popped out of a Morton Williams bag and was shared between hands as the train swished on the tracks. We somehow managed to transfer to the 2, then the L, all the while snapping blurry .5 photos. After emerging from the Jefferson Ave stop, we rushed to get into line, phones in hand with our tickets ready.
As soon as we entered, I beelined towards the bathroom. I remember the pure silliness staring back at me in the mirrored walls, which I see now in the countless pictures I have—mid-laugh, sunglasses on, hugging my friend as we feigned surprise, puckered our lips, and smiled. We funneled into the crowd, locking hands as the pounding beats engulfed us. The disco ball spun above, barely illuminating the faces around me—I was surrounded by my friends on all sides, screaming along to Rihanna’s immaculate discography, dancing beneath the colored lights, swaying together. One shared Uber ride and Hooda Halal chicken gyro later, and I was back in my Woodbridge double.
This wasn’t my first or last time at House of Yes, nor was it my first outing with these friends nnor the last time I’d find myself drunkenly transferring trains. It was, however, the first time I’d felt the pang of longing for a time that had barely passed, of missing friends that were right there, close enough to touch, which I knew wouldn’t always be the case. Nights like this aren’t always extraordinary, but therein lies their beauty and novelty. There’s a liberating joy in simply being with close friends, knowing that regardless of what lies ahead, nothing matters more than where you are right now.
Halloween Nights by Sadia Haque
My parents never let me go to a Halloween parade despite growing up in Queens and having access to one only a few minutes walk from my house. They’d drag the whole family to Rockefeller Center to look at the giant Christmas tree and cook a whole turkey for Thanksgiving, but Halloween was the one holiday my immigrant parents could never embrace. When I came to college and gained more independence from my parents, I decided that I would find a group of friends to go downtown and watch the Halloween parade in Greenwich. As luck would have it, my first-year friend-group all seemed taken with the idea and we made our way downtown on Halloween night. We were all dressed up in the most clichéd costumes, from a black cat to a witch to a very clever “e-boy,” and excited to see our first-ever NYC Halloween parade.
I don’t remember much from the night—brief flashes of my friends getting tipsy from the wine one of their parents gifted them and our determination to find an ice-cream shop of which we had all heard but couldn’t remember the name. I remember being dragged down street corners and pushed on top of metal barricades to get a better view of the parade going by. I remember holding on to my friends as we maneuvered our way through the closed off streets to find a subway station to bring us back to campus. I remember thinking how lucky I was to find this group of people who I could break all my parents' rules with. I remember feeling so hopeful.
Then the pandemic happened, and I had to move back in with my parents. I tried to stay in touch with the friends I had made, but I had known them for months and the pandemic went on for years. Coming back, I ran into the people that I had thought would become my closest friends and gave them a passing hello. I made new friends and became more comfortable in who I am, and I decided that maybe my parents were not as unreasonable in their choices as I made them out to be at 18. I rarely think about that Halloween night, but I recall it now in all its ephemeral glory and rejoice. I don’t know where I will be in the coming years after Columbia, I don’t know how many of my friends I will stay in contact with as my four years come to an end, but I know that the memories I made here, the home I built—as fleeting as it may be—is worth remembering and celebrating even years after it has ended.